Companies have a lot to think about when it comes to establishing themselves in their own community and providing competitive benefits to their employees. And, there’s a way to do both that’s growing in popularity, especially among younger employees and job seekers.
One of the most rewarding things a company can do is to give back to their own community. The rewards are wide-ranging and impressive, from employee satisfaction to brand awareness—not to mention the good that is being achieved in the community. Those benefits are even more profound when encouraged through formal volunteer programs in the workplace. Many organizations provide opportunities for their employees to volunteer throughout the year, with two common methods: structured corporate activities or VTO (volunteer time off).
What is Structured Corporate Volunteering?
Structured corporate volunteering (SCV) has long been the preferred method for employers who want to engage their workforce in volunteering or build partnerships with nonprofits and causes. Whether it’s a one-time activity, an annual event, or regular ongoing programs, companies can create structured opportunities for their employees to volunteer.
The benefit to employers is often in the scheduling: they have some control over where and when people get together to provide a community service. It can also make for a great team-building opportunity, in which everyone is focused on the same project or goal—but with the refreshing option of getting away from their desks and the usual daily work routine.
What does SCV look like?
Structured corporate volunteering can come in many forms. Companies plan specific (and often regular) activities that employees participate in on a voluntary—though highly encouraged—basis. The activity may directly tie into the organization’s overall mission and culture: think of a healthcare company participating in the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk or a veterinary clinic pitching in at their local animal shelter. Others may choose volunteer opportunities that align with their location or with a cause that’s personally meaningful to one or more employees. Take Patagonia, for example, and their employee volunteer programs.
Corporate volunteering may also align with public relations or marketing initiatives. Participating as a company in charitable events can promote a brand or a program. It can also give that company a chance to show itself as a giving corporate citizen and a supporter of the community.
Activities are more likely to take place at the end of the workday or on weekends, with employees contributing their own time to the cause rather than staying on the clock and receiving company pay.
What is Volunteer Time Off?
Volunteer time off is a little bit different. VTO typically functions like traditional paid time off (PTO), allowing employees to schedule their own volunteer activities during working hours while still getting paid. Like a standard vacation time benefit, companies can offer a set number of hours or days that are available to use throughout the year or even on a monthly basis. Some may require a different time-request process or that participants provide hour tracking for their charitable activity or philanthropic efforts.
VTO has risen in popularity in the last few years. According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), 24% of employers offered the benefit in 2018. That number is up from 16% in 2014, according to their 2018 Employee Benefits report. To stay competitive, companies are starting to include VTO as a line item in their standard benefits packages, right alongside salary, health insurance, life insurance, and sick days.
What does VTO look like?
VTO is used most often for smaller, local activities that can be completed throughout the course of a workday — sometimes even on an employee’s regular lunch. Employees might use some of their time to complete a volunteer project with another coworker or a small team. Employees with children or grandchildren may choose to volunteer at their child’s school. Having local, accessible opportunities for volunteering makes it easy for an employee to find positive ways to use their VTO and make a difference for both a nonprofit’s cause and the business they represent.
On a larger scale, VTO might be used to supplement other vacation time to participate in a long-term project or ongoing volunteer projects. The beauty of VTO is that it can be structured however is best for the organization. An employee may use their time to travel to an area affected by a natural disaster or use their lunch break to deliver meals to the elderly.
Companies who offer the benefit may also encourage employees to use their VTO to participate in a group activity, as part of structured corporate volunteering. Some organizations have ongoing philanthropic commitments where individuals can use their VTO to perhaps serve meals at a soup kitchen or pick up trash along a nearby highway.
Giving Back as a Company
Creating opportunities to volunteer at work is continuing to gain in popularity. The SHRM 2018 Employee Benefits report shows that 47% of companies offer some type of community volunteer program, up from 40% in 2014. For multi-billion-dollar companies, participation in volunteer programs is even higher. According to the CECP 2017 Giving in Numbers report, 61% of companies offer paid-release time volunteer programs. They understand the true value in creating space for contributing to causes beyond their core products, services, and bottom line.
Structured corporate volunteering and volunteer time off are two ways to achieve the same goal at work. Whether it’s as a group or on your own, participating in charitable activities throughout the year helps promote good health, happiness, and even a longer life. Volunteerism can help participants learn new skills, build self-confidence, and decrease depression. When you volunteer in collaboration with your place of work, you get the added benefits of higher engagement, stronger relationships with your peers or with management, and the satisfaction of meeting a goal with your team.
And, the numbers show that volunteer programs benefit companies, too. Employers with strong philanthropic programs are likely to see more loyalty and higher retention rates, cutting the high costs of workforce turnover. In one 2004 Stanford Graduate School of Business report, surveys found that MBA graduates would be willing to give up as much as 14% of their expected income in order to “work for an organization with a better reputation for corporate social responsibility and ethics.”
Workplace volunteer programs can have a lot of structure or almost none at all, but they can always promote a sense of gratitude and generosity. That’s a win-win environment that can benefit all: employees, employers, and charitable organizations.
Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
By NobleHour Special Contributor:
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she’s not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.